GUEST WORDS--Americans often ask what a President’s “legacy” will be. Donald Trump revealed a great and terrible truth: who America “really” is.
Now, America’s a lot of things. And yet in the end, too, things reach a kind of balance, and in that balance, we can say that the truth of things is revealed at last. Let me explain what I mean.
There’s a dynamic that happens these days that goes like this. A white person, especially a white liberal, will cry, shaking their head at events like, for example, the coup at the Capitol: “this isn’t who America is!” And a minority will respond, shaking their head, “this is exactly who America is!” The white person will feel a sense of white rage at the minority, and the minority will feel a kind of weary, bitter disappointment with the white person. This scene is repeated a thousand times a day.
So, who is right? The answer, as ever, lies in what we can see before our eyes. In the balance that things find, which is always where the truth lies. The world can see this balance, even if Americans themselves can’t yet. Let me give you three examples of what I mean, because I know it still sounds strange.
Back in 2016, Trump announced a “Muslim Ban.” In those days, white liberals cried furiously to minorities: “We will never allow this to happen!” Minorities, skeptical, rolled their eyes. White liberals, angry, replied: “We will stand with you! At the airports if we have to!” And, to their credit, they did. The first time around, at least. By the third time Trump tried his ethnic ban, though, no white “allies,” as we say these days, were to be found. Trump’s ethnic ban sailed through and is in fact still a feature of American life. What happened to all the white liberals who cried “We will stand with you?” Where had they gone?
Around the same time of my first example, maybe a little before, figures like Steve Bannon began to be hailed in the American press and media — a new vanguard of exciting, glamorous, perhaps even revolutionary leaders. Bannon was celebrated as a grand pensée, a giant intellectual, a savior of Western Civilization, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Freud, in a cheap windbreaker. We minorities wondered: what on earth? But there was an endless list of such folks. Richard Spencer, the dashing young hero…Nazi. Milo, the trendy, edgy “provocateur.” I could go on and on.
The Trumpets worshiped such figures ardently. But white liberals, too, did something strange. Having seen this new vanguard of neo-fascism fawned over in the pages of the New York Times, on CNN, and so forth, they stroked their chins, and nodded, as if it were very clever to pretend that neo-fascists were great intellectuals with merely “provocative” ideas. We minorities, again, wondered: what on earth?
And yet their white liberals were. “Debating” Steve Bannon’s “ideas” as if fascism was some kind of deeply interesting theoretical game…not something history provides ample evidence for, about how it proceeds, evolves, and ends. Why were white liberals treating this all like some kind of game? Some kind of college seminar? Why wouldn’t anyone say fascism? That is what we minorities wondered.
But we were to go on wondering. To this day, Chris, Jake, and Ezra have yet to say fascism. White liberals imagine themselves to be good and thoughtful people. But they take their cues from a tiny, tiny set of pundits, to whom they are emotionally attached in an infantile way, like children: whose criticism they cannot brook. And so white liberals didn’t say fascism, either — and to this day, if you criticize their golden boy white dude pundits, they get mad at you. And all that is how fascism got normalized and legitimized in America.
That brings me to my third example. By early 2018, little children were in concentration camps. In those camps, there were allegations of mass sexual abuse. They were ripped away from their parents, some never to be “reunited.” All that is a form of genocide. Not even attempted genocide, but successful genocide.
In the beginning, when all this started to happen, there was a minor outcry from white liberals. And then, soon enough, even all this — kids in concentration camps, genocide, the worst things human beings can do — was normalized. A million people didn’t march on the Capitol. The Dems did not, consequently, impeach Trump for it. They funded the camps. America was a society that would tolerate the worst abuses human beings could make happen.
That brings me to my fourth example. Mass death. 400,000 people died of COVID-19 within one year. Much of this was due to a lunatic President leading an army of aggressive anti-maskers. But much of it was also due to white liberals treating all this like some kind theoretical debate or college seminar or game…all over again.
Let me make this example personal. I predicted that somewhere between 400,000 to half a million Americans would be dead by the time Trump left office. It turns out I was precisely correct. Not because I’m a genius: it took about five minutes of basic third grade math. And yet what happened? I was called, as I usually am, an alarmist, hyperbolic, hysterical.
But by whom? By white liberals, who couldn’t bring themselves to believe math. And therefore, by treating COVID-19 like a game, normalized its spread. Maybe it was freedom not to wear a mask. Hey! Wasn’t all this just some kind of grand constitutional debate, in which white dudes proved how smart they were?
None of it was a game. The camps. The kids. What they showed, that America was a society which would tolerate the worst abuses, with a wan, defeated smile. The mass death that was going to follow, because such a society couldn’t stand up for anything, any level of decency, goodness, humanity, courage, grace, truth.
My point’s beginning to be a little clearer now, I think. So, let me distill it even further.
Pundits like to say America’s “divided.” And it is. But not between left and right, as they think. It is divided in three ways.
America consists now of three tribes. One, regressive white people, whose entire lives and lifestyles are devoted to supremacy and hate, in harder or softer ways. These are the Trumpists. Two, the other kind of whites. The ones who think they are much better, much smarter, much more moral, and so on. And finally, there are minorities.
Now, whites think they are pitted against one another — and that is the dumb, false story told in the everyday media. But what we minorities know is a very different truth. White people will always choose themselves over us. That is why and how fascism got normalized and legitimized in America. It was white liberals tolerating regressive, hateful white people — and then, flying into fits of rage, calling the rest of us alarmists, hysterics, and hyperbolic for pointing that simple fact out.
Let me say it again.
Fascism got normalized and legitimized in America. But it wasn’t regressive, hateful whites who normalized it. It was white liberals. Regressive and hateful whites could spread fascism, sure. But they don’t control America’s institutions and power centers and norms. White liberals do. Fascism spread in America because white liberals treated it like some kind of intellectually pleasing game, some kind of deeply absorbing debate, a “provocation,” something to be proven wrong. But what kind of astonishing idiot needs fascism to be proven wrong?
It’s not like history doesn’t tell us. Fascism is a pattern of escalation of abuse, which happens when fanatics who think some people are subhumans seize control of the state. Hate, scapegoating, dehumanization, bans, camps, raids, genocide, mass death. That’s fascism.
And at every step of the way, America proceeded like this. Regressive whites would cheer on fascism, and their leaders would literally escalate to the next step. And white liberals wouldn’t stop them. They were too busy asking some of the most idiotic questions people have ever asked in history, like (“Wait, is this really fascism? Where’s the evidence!”) or in denial deeper than a river (“But those aren’t concentration camps! They’re detainment facilities!”) or, worst of all, flying into white rage, and hounding those of us who warned that…
It was happening here. Not that there was some remote risk of it happening here. Not that we were making “analogies” to Nazis. But that these were American Nazis, and they would stop at nothing to try and have their land of the pure, through violence and hate. Who else puts kids in camps? Tortures them, which is what “family separation” is?
And who doesn’t care enough about that to stop it? The answer, sadly, is: white liberals.
I said America was divided in three ways, so let me now explain precisely what I mean. America’s has three tribes, hateful whites, whites who think they are much, much better and smarter than hateful whites, and “minorities,” a catchall term for everyone else.
And what Donald Trump revealed about America is the following terrible truth. White people will always choose white people over minorities. As a social group, anyways, meaning a majority of them. During the Trump years, all those white liberals who think of themselves as intellectually and mentally and culturally superior to Trumpists were revealed to be no such thing. Every time Trump escalated; white liberals would make an excuse…find justification…tolerate it…give it a pass. Until, at last, America came to the final endpoints of fascism, mass death and coup. It got there because white liberals legitimized and normalized fascism to such a degree that the rest of the world was horrified. Not shocked, mind you — but just horrified.
What the Trump Years reveal is that white people will always choose white people over minorities. They will make excuses — even the good ones, the ones who think they are morally and intellectually very fine people — for things like concentration camps, kids in them, genocide, and mass death. They will literally sit there and debate you about such things, as if there was some kind of both-sides about them being acceptable and unacceptable. They did not have the courage, grace, goodness, and determination to oppose the worst abuses of power imaginable.
And that leaves us minorities feeling very different than white liberals. White liberals will tell you that the Trump Years made them “sick,” but we mean very different things. We minorities spent the last four years feeling physically ill every single day, afraid for our lives and our loved ones, terrorized by white America. All of it. When white liberals tell us they feel what we are feeling, it is only an admission they don’t have a clue. You cannot know the feeling in the pit of your stomach that your family might disappear — and have to live with it every day — unless it is happening to you.
You don’t know our hurt and pain — and what’s worse, you don’t know that you are why we are hurting and in pain.
All that will come as a surprise to many white liberals. And their response will be predictable. They will get angry at me, and run to Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias or any number of white pundits whose only real job anymore it is to excuse white liberals for excusing the worst abuses of power humanity is capable of, to reassure them they are still good and fine and intelligent people, and everything is just fine, hush now, little baby.
But everything is not fine. We minorities do not trust you anymore. Because we know how weak you really are. You said you would stand up for us, and you didn’t. You caved like a house of cards blowing over in the faintest breeze. And then you spent years calling us names, insulting us, pretending we were crazy, for pointing out what was happening before your now blind eyes, to which apparently, none of this was fascism.
Donald Trump did all that. Or maybe he just let it all happen.
And so here we are, pretending all over again. The white liberal is breathing a sigh of relief, pretending everything is fine. We minorities are back to smiling in pleasing ways, pretending everything is fine. Everything is not fine. Donald Trump revealed to us just how much America hates us. Oh, we always knew that the bad whites hated us. And we had an inkling that the good ones were not that good, not good enough, at least to care about us very much, either, that when push came to shove, they would choose white people over us, as they always have done, even if the matter was our annihilation at the hands of fascists. We suspected that much, and I think many of us minorities never wanted to admit it, because, well, living with such a terrifying thought — your entire society hates you, only some a little less than others — is too much to bear. So, we suspected, and tried not to think about how little you cared about us, all the good white people.
But now we know. And we can never unsee it. We can never go back to not knowing. So, what do we do now?
You tell me, my friend, because all this has left a well of grief in me deeper than an ocean. I don’t just feel hurt, or betrayed, or wounded, by how weak, spineless, silent, and complicit white liberals turned out to be. What worries me most is that I’m not surprised.
Donald Trump revealed the truth of White America.
We see it, us minorities. The whole world sees it. But white liberals still don’t. And that, strangely, funnily, stupidly, terribly, is the truth of White America. The bad ones want to annihilate the rest of us. The good ones? They’re busy looking the other way.
(Umair Haque writes for E&Co … where this piece was first posted.) Image Credit: Jeff Kowalsky